Recently, the SC Department of Commerce (SCDOC), with the help of South Carolinas’ ten regional Councils of Government, sponsored a series of focus group meetings in order to discuss local communities economic and development needs and priorities. The information gathered is meant to help in the development of the State’s Community and Economic Development sections of the Consolidated Plan for Housing and Community development.
The State Consolidated Plan for Housing and Community Development is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order for the State of South Carolina to receive federal funding each year for four programs:
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, administered by the SC Department of Commerce
- HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program, administered by the SC State Housing Finance and Development Authority
- Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program, administered by the SC Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity
- Housing Opportunities for Persons with Aids (HOPWA) Program, administered by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control
The SC Department of Commerce is also the lead agency for the Consolidated Plan for South Carolina.
HUD requires a new state Consolidated Plan every five years. The current plan, for the period 2011 through 2015, identifies statewide housing and community development priorities and broad strategies for addressing the three HUD goals:
- Suitable Living Environment
- Decent Housing
- Economic Opportunity
Because the Plan affects a lot of people, communities and organizations across the State, the SCDOC requested each Council of Government aid in arranging Focus Group Meetings with local communities. For the tri-county area, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) helped facilitate the two Focus Group meetings for both Berkeley and Dorchester County. The meetings were organized and administered by the BCDCOG’s Senior Planner, Kara Browder. Ms. Browder contacted officials and other members of the community with experience in community, economic, and workforce development and invited them to one of the two focus groups for their area.
The Dorchester County Focus Group met on August 6, 2015 in St. George and the Berkeley County Focus Group met on August 11, 2015 in Moncks Corner. At each meeting Ms. Browder explained the purpose of the focus group and discussing the different topics to be addressed during the meeting. The three main topics addressed were: Economic Development, Community Infrastructure, and Community Facilities and Services. Each topic was written on a sheet and then displayed along with a few suggestions, under each topic in order to help get discussions flowing.
Discussions at both Focus Groups seemed to center around Workforce Development; this seemed to be the most addressed need in both counties including expansion of employment services, as well as training and transit availability. Secondary areas of concern included creating better access to broadband for rural communities as well as better cell service and connectivity, more Fire Stations/EMS/Emergency Services being provided to rural areas that currently have nothing close to them, and services support for all citizens from young adults entering the workforce to senior citizens needing help with health insurance advice. Other needs included better infrastructure, as well as new/updated water and sewer services and access.
Once all the topics had been covered Ms. Browder reviewed the different funding resources the counties could utilize in the development of their communities. The information and data collected at the meeting was sent to SCDOC to aid in the update to the present Consolidated Plan. The State makes its draft plans and annual reports available to the public for review and holds a hearing each year to discuss plans, prior to finalizing and submitting them to HUD. Program years run from April 1 through March 31.